Gradually I came to see that sanctuary is a shape-shifter, which changes according to our needs and stage of life and according to opportunities. –Julie Leibrich

A great talent

By Roger Childs

Julie Leibrich has been one of New Zealand’s most talented poets over the last 20 years, but sadly the Kapiti icon has passed away at the age of 73. She was not only a poet, but also a children’s writer, and author of non-fiction works on spirituality, mental health and justice. 

She spoke at many literary gatherings around the world and was awarded several grants and prizes, including the Todd New Writer’s Bursary, the Joy Cowley Book Prize and the Legal Research Foundation Special Book Award. Her poetry has appeared in numerous journals and anthologies.

A life with many ups and downs

She was born in Lancashire but lived her last few years in Raumati South. She had many talents and in earlier times had been a psychologist and a Mental Health Commissioner. 

During her life she endured depression, a marriage break up, psychiatric care, a suicide attempt and many periods of self-doubt. However, she survived those trials and tribulations often in the sanctuary of Christian and Jewish communities, and with the help of friends.

Finding Sanctuary

Among her many publications perhaps the masterpiece is Sanctuary which is the story of her life. It reveals that often in her wondering, wandering and wonderment Julie has needed to find solace. The book is in many ways an odyssey of self-discovery, however the contributions made by others to her journey through life are warmly acknowledged. 

In recounting her own search for sanctuary, Julie taps into the wisdom of the ages and there is a wonderful selection of philosophy, viewpoints and explanations of the many different types of sanctuary. This is truly a book for all seasons and every reader will find plenty of wisdom with which they can identify.  

Happiness on the Kapiti Coast

Sundown on the Kapiti Coast (Karl Webber photo)

In her last few years Julie’s sanctuary was Raumati South just a few 100 metres from the beach and her beloved Rosetta Café. Of a morning she could often be found on the café deck drinking coffee and scribbling away in a notebook. 

Many of her sonnets have imagery of the Kapiti coastline and the wonders of nature. (In the months ahead Waikanae Watch will feature some of these.) She enjoyed reading her poetry and was a popular contributor at Poets for the People gatherings.

Julie was a friendly, warm-hearted and generous person who will be greatly missed.